Rockin’ R

Published 31st October 2011
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Rockin’ R

R, the eighteenth letter of the alphabet, probably has the most interesting history of all the letters. The letter appears in the oldest known alphabetic writing from around 1800 BC in central Egypt. Its sound is made by a vibration of the palate, throat and tongue, with the tongue approaching the palate.

When it comes to the pronunciation of R it varies widely across languages. Parisian French pronounces it as a demure gargle along the throat and palate. Notoriously this sound is more or less impossible for most English speakers. For example try saying regarder… In Croatian, a written R may include a vowel sound. The city name Trieste is spelled as Trst, for example. In Spanish and Italian the R is trilled, as with Scottish and the famous Scots burr.

This letter is known for slipping away occasionally in some forms of spoken English. This is due to the fact that it takes effort to say with its relatively demanding pronunciation requiring a stiff tongue tip. This is especially noticeable in young children who may replace R with the less taxing W. ‘Pesky wabbit!’ declares Elmer Fudd!

The letter’s diagonal ‘tail’ which distinguishes it from the letter P, came into use in ancient Rome. While the lower case r grew out of the semi-uncial handwriting style of the early Middle Ages. Uncial handwriting is a script entirely made up of capital letters that was prevalent in the 3rd to 4th centuries and used by Latin or Greek scribes.

Barking R

The letter has long been associated with dogs due to its growling sound and this has been noted as early as the mid-1st century AD when the poet Persius called it the ‘dog letter’


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